cultural sensitivity training and near death by taxi


We wrapped up work yesterday evening, after a somewhat eventful day.

First of all, we imprudently scheduled a day of interviewing on what is considered a weekend in Egypt (they are off work on Friday and Saturday).  Worse, many people here must go to pray at midday, so setting up interviews then places them in an awkward position, and makes us appear very culturally insensitive.  Given that the lead article in today told us that 80% of Egyptians (and a nearly equivalent % of Arab speaking people overall) have a negative  view of Americans.  I dislike the inclination to apologize for my countrymen, but have no problem issuing the old mea culpa when I’m feeling like part of the problem – as was the case today.

Beyond the obvious cultural insensitivity behind scheduling business on a weekend, the logistics get very tricky.  For one thing, no one was there to open up the office for us this morning.  We had only three candidates, but they had to interview in a large room with others for the first hour.  It’s pretty distracting to hear all of this stuff going on around you instead of being able to concentrate.  I felt bad as my first candidate didn’t do very well – which set the tone for his day.  In fact none of the folks we spoke with this morning are getting offers.

On the other hand, the afternoon was taken up by several strong candidates from South Africa.  To those of us from the states, Travelling from south to north over the African continent may seem like a jaunt.  It’s actually many hours of travel though – much like traveling from Amsterdam to Seattle.

We wrapped up with about 30 min of discussion about where each of the candidates we will extend offers will likely go.  There was some ‘horsetrading’, but the process was pretty smooth – felt like we had a really good and very cooperative team here.  It looks like my manager’s team will get 3 candidates from the trip – not a bad yield for a week’s work.  They’re all very solid – and I am confident that they’ll come in and do great work.  Owing to the h1b limits, they will not be able to start until next October – which seems like an amazing amount of lead time.  That’s not going to change until we see our elected officials enact more enlightened immigration policy.  Until they do, we’ll keep funneling people into our R&D centers in their native countries – which seems like an unintended side effect for US tech companies – it actually forces more jobs overseas.

Unrelated to that – the last couple of days, I’ve enjoyed some Turkish coffee.  Very thick, strong stuff.  Although exhausted last night, I could not get to sleep last night until after 3.  it might have been the second-hand sheesha smoke though.  The rest of the crew is pretty enthused about sheesha – fragrant flavored tobacco.  I’ve tagged along with them the past two evenings while they’ve smoked.  They seem to enjoy it quite a bit, but I don’t see the attraction.

After we finished work, all 6 of us piled into Sherif’s car and drove up to downtown Cairo for dinner at a Lebanese restaurant.  Being the tallest, they put me in the front seat, while the five others crammed into the back.  Everyone has gotten to know each other pretty well this week, thanks in large part to the crowded car rides.

Once again,  the food was amazing.  The vegetarians among us enjoyed a combination of dishes from the neighboring Indian place and the Lebanese place.  Afterwards – you guessed it – more sheesha.  Oy.

On the way back to the hotel in the suburb we’re affectionately calling the fourth ring of hell, things got a bit exciting.  Priya left the door to the cab partially open – if we had gotten to the freeway like that she probably would have been launched into traffic at a high rate of speed.  Also – the front seat kept giving way and collapsing on her knees – imagine someone reclining on you when there’s no room to begin with.  I also got to experience the amazing experience known as the "Egyptian cab between two large trucks at 80 miles per hour death ride".  I nearly soiled myself.  The driver kind of chuckled when he saw the look on my face.  Always glad to entertain.



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